Two subjects have been replaced with force on the public and political agenda in the 1990’s: delinquency and the family. Criminal behavior of young people has become a growing concern to the general public, and most people consider that one of its main causes is the failure of the family to raise pro-social children and to transfer to them essential moral norms and values.
With respect to this debate I want to defend two theses. The first is that the family is and remains an extremely important socializing unit. While the causal chain of factors leading to criminal behavior is an intricate one, in which the child itself and the social context play an important role, the family does seem to have a decisive impact on the social behavior of the child. The second is that social and economic change in the 19th and 20th century has fundamentally changed family life and made the task of raising children more difficult. I don’t agree with those people who claim that there is a decay of our values and moral standards and that parents are incapable of transferring essential norms and values. I think that parents are faced with a number of serious problems, which are related to the life-style in post modern society and which have weakened the family’s possibilities in controlling the hild-raising process. This means that if we want parents to do a better job in performing that role, there is a collective and political responsibility to strengthen family life and organize support structures for the family. The first section of this paper will treat the impact of social and economic change on the family since the 19th century and more in particular the loss of parental authority over their children. In the second section I will review the empirical evidence for the role of the family in the genesis of criminal behavior and other problems.